On November 8, 2016, 53% of Arkansas voters approved a medical marijuana initiative. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016 allows seriously ill patients to use and safely obtain medical marijuana with their doctors’ approval. The amendment will establish between four and eight cultivation facility licenses and up to 40 dispensaries, all of which will be regulated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. It also established the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, which issued five cultivation licenses and 32 dispensaries, though more may be added at a later date. Under the law, home cultivation is not permitted.

Qualifying for the program: In order to register, patients must submit a written certification from an Arkansas-licensed physician certifying that they suffer from an applicable disease to the Department of Health, a $50 application fee, and a copy of their state-issued photo ID. Designated caregivers can enroll in the program to assist the physically disabled and minors under 18. Caregivers also have to undergo a $34 criminal background check. Note, due to an amendment to the program by the legislature, members of the Arkansas National Guard and the U.S. military are not permitted to enroll in the program as either patients or caregivers.

Qualifying conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Tourette’s syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, PTSD, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, or the treatment of any of these conditions qualify. In addition, patients with doctors’ certifications qualify if they have a chronic or debilitating medical condition (or its treatment) that produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, intractable pain that has not responded to other treatment for at least six months, severe nausea, seizures, and severe or persistent muscle spasms. The Department of Health has the power to approve new qualifying conditions.

Local control: Cities, towns, and counties may pass reasonable zoning restrictions on dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Localities can only outright prohibit the operation of any facilities through a popular election pursuant to Arkansas’ initiative process.

Limitations:

  • It remains illegal for patients to use cannabis at a number of locations, including schools, daycare centers, drug or alcohol treatment facilities, youth centers, correctional facilities, or in public places.
  • It remains illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of cannabis.
  • It remains illegal for any person who does not have a qualifying medical condition to use cannabis.
  • The amendment allows landlords to prohibit on-site cannabis smoking.

Taxes and revenue: Patients, caregivers, and cannabis facilities will pay registration fees to the Health Department. Cannabis will also be subject to all existing sales taxes. All sales tax revenues will first go to covering the administrative costs of running the program after which the rest will be distributed to the General Revenue Fund.

Timeline: While the amendment became effective immediately, patients are not permitted to possess medical cannabis unless they also have a registry card, which will be issued 30 days before dispensaries open. Patients were allowed to begin applying for cards on July 1, 2017. The Health Department estimates that medical cannabis will be available by the end of 2017 or early 2018.